Esther Pollard: My Secret Meeting with PM Netanyahu
Exclusive to IMRA - November 10, 2009
IMRA: The following eye-opening essay was released by the Pollards to mark the 25th anniversary of Jonathan Pollard's imprisonment, November 21, 2009. May be reprinted with attribution.
The six a.m. alarm had not yet sounded when my cell phone began to vibrate noisily and then to ring insistently. I tried to ignore it, but the stubborn ringing would not stop, no matter how hard I plugged my ears, or pulled the covers up over my head. Reluctantly, I reached for the phone and it clicked on as I put it to my ear.
"Esther Pollard?" queried an American voice at the other end of the wire.
"Who is this?!" I countered.
"Before I can tell you anything else, please respond, is this Esther Pollard?"
"This is she," I replied.
"I am calling from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office," he said.
That's weird, I thought, this guy has an American accent and speaks fluent English.
"Esther can you be downstairs in 15 minutes? We are sending a car to get you. Prime Minister Netanyahu would like to meet with you."
"What?!" I exclaimed. "Why does Netanyahu suddenly want to meet with me?! Why now?! Netanyahu cut all contact with my husband, Jonathan, and has been totally indifferent to us ever since he took office last March. Why the sudden interest now?! - And who are you?!"
"My name is Ari," he said. "You don't know me. You have a right to be skeptical. I promise you that you will get all of the answers you need when you meet with the Prime Minister. You can ask him personally."
"Is this about our court case against the government of Israel?" I asked. You do know that we are suing the Government of Israel to make them stop lying! The government claims it is supporting us financially and that is a lie! In 25 years we have never gotten a single cent from the Government of Israel. We do not want money. We just want the lies to stop. We want the government to admit - in writing - that we have never gotten anything at all from them. Is Netanyahu ready to sign a letter to that effect? Is that why the prime minister finally wants to speak with me?"
"Please Esther, for the love of G-d," came the reply, "save the questions for later. Now, please just get dressed. Be downstairs in 15 minutes. You will get all the answers when you get here."
I quickly threw on some clothes and grabbed my purse. But before leaving the apartment, I wrote a quick note for Bella, the lady who opened her home and her heart to me and Jonathan when the government of Israel abandoned us without any support whatsoever. "Dear Bella," I wrote, "Gone to meet with Netanyahu. If I am not back by noon, then I am in trouble, so call the police."
I flew down the stairs and practically ran into the Ford Explorer parked virtually upon our doorstep, its motor running and the driver waiting for me.
I opened the door of the SUV and climbed in. "Are you Esther Pollard?" the driver asked in Hebrew. As soon as I responded in the affirmative, he shifted into gear and headed towards the Knesset. Then he by-passed the Knesset in favor of the road for Tel Aviv.
"Hey! I said (speaking in Hebrew), "Aren't you supposed to be taking me to the Prime Minister! Why are we leaving Jerusalem?!"
"Relax!" smiled the driver. "I am bringing you to the Prime Minister's house in Caesarea. Didn't anyone tell you that this is a secret meeting?"
"To tell you the truth," I said, "no one has even told me what this meeting is about, let alone that it supposed to be secret!"
"Here," he said, switching the radio to a cool FM station, "close your eyes, relax, and listen to the music. If you fall asleep, I will wake you when we get to Caesarea."
In no time at all, we arrived at our destination. I was escorted through the living room of the Prime Minister's home and out to the patio where Netanyahu awaited me. He motioned towards a couple chairs and a small nesting table in the corner on the left. I sat down and the PM seated himself opposite me, facing a grassy area behind me. On the little table a half-smoked cigar rested in the ashtray. A little beyond where we sat, a rectangular-shaped swimming pool reflected the early morning light.
"Esther," said the Prime Minister, "Thank you for coming. And thank you for keeping this meeting a secret - just between the two of us."
I did not respond. The PM continued.
"Listen," he said, "I know you have no reason to believe me. And I know you have no reason to trust me. I know that I should have been in touch with you sooner. And I know that you are sore that I never mention Jonathan's name at any official government function, and I have never made any public statement affirming Israel's determination to secure Jonathan's release and to bring him home to Israel. You have a right to be mad."
I opened my mouth, about to add to his list of reasons of why we do not trust him and why we have difficulty believing him, but he put up his hand to silence me and went on.
"Yes, I know about your court case against the government of Israel. Ron gave me a copy. You are right to be suing. It is despicable that successive governments of Israel abandoned Jonathan; and did not even have the decency to support him financially, medically or legally. I know that you are not suing for money, but just to get a letter stating the truth, that you and Jonathan do not get anything from the government of Israel, and never have."
He continued, "I also know how disgusted you are by the Lindenstrauss Report, which whitewashed the government's failure to do right by Jonathan. Yes, I know that Lindenstrauss never spoke to you or Jonathan in the framework of his investigation, so it is obviously nothing more than an elaborate cover-up. And I also know about the character assassination piece that ran in Yediot."
I opened my eyes wide in surprise; I was really impressed that he knew all these things.
Netanyahu continued, "Esther, what do you take me for?! Of course I recognized the Bergman piece in Yediot as character assassination! I am an expert on character assassination, having been on the receiving end of it so many times, myself!" He smiled.
"Bibi," I interjected, "Can we cut to the chase? Why did you bring me here today?"
The PM responded, "When I realized that we are only a short time away from the 25th anniversary of Jonathan's imprisonment, it really shook me up. I am appalled that someone who served the State of Israel could be treated this way. It does us all dishonor. I am determined to do something, now, without further delay, to cut the Gordian Knot and bring him home, once and for all.
I guess the look on my face said it all, and the Prime Minister responded, "Esther, I know you have been hurt too many times before, and you and Jonathan have nothing but a string of disappointments to your name, but this time, Esther, this time is different."
"I want you to have a look at something," Netanyahu said, as he handed me a couple of printed pages that had clearly been sanitized of all identifying marks. "The GSS intercepted this communication. It was delivered to the Egyptians," he explained.
I scanned the first page. It was addressed to Omar Suleiman, the head of Egyptian Intelligence. It read:
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April 23, 2009
To the Attention of the Honorable Egyptian Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman:
The following document has been circulating among PA officials and is now on the table of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Given Egypt's leading role in the region in general and as chief broker in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians as well as the personal respect and esteem all parties relevant to the proposal have for His Excellency Mohammed Hosni Mubarak, we thought it appropriate to seek to bring this initiative to his attention via the good offices of the Honorable Egyptian Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman.
Egyptian involvement in promoting this initiative not only serves to help spur movement and progress on the Palestinian-Israeli front under President Mubarak's leadership but also "close a circle" for Egypt, since the release of Azzam Azzam was proposed to be an element of a three-way trade including the release of Pollard by the U.S. and Barghouti by Israel.
Brokering this initiative will bring great honor and acclaim to President Mubarak and the People of Egypt both in the region and throughout the world.
In light of the above, we are confident that the Honorable Egyptian Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman will see fit to bring this initiative to the attention of His Excellency Mohammed Hosni Mubarak.
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"What is this all about?" I asked. Why are you showing this to me?
"Keep reading," said Netanyahu.
I turned the page and nearly fainted when I saw the title:
Barghouti - Pollard Trade.
This is what it said:
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Proposal for a Barghouti- Pollard Trade
April 13, 2009
Proposing a Barghouti-Pollard trade to the Americans before Obama meets with Netanyahu, would make a major contribution towards ensuring the PA's stature and relations with Obama. It would raise the American President's standing within the PA and the Arab world. Publicly, it would reduce the impact of the upcoming Netanyahu visit to Washington and portray him as beholden to Obama for a move that effectively resolves an Israeli spy case that has festered for a quarter of century.
Most importantly the move would serve to bolster the standing of the Palestinian moderates, the PA, at the expense of Hamas extremists.
Here are some of the obvious advantages:
Immediate impact: Unlike other possible initiatives that require considerable lead times, a Barghouti-Pollard trade could be executed in a number of days if the parties agree. The paperwork (the Pollard Clemency petition which was filed last year) is already in place for Obama to release Pollard without any further notice. In Israel, Peres can do the same for Barghouti in short order.
Unprecedented American gesture of support to PA: The prisoner-sensitive Palestinian street will appreciate that the American release of Pollard in exchange for Barghouti constitutes an American sacrifice of a magnitude far beyond anything the United States has ever made to date for the benefit of the Palestinians.
Palestinian moderates gain at the expense of Hamas extremists: The successful Barghouti-Pollard trade would be seen as a tangibly self-evident success in contrast to the failed negotiations with Hamas over a Shalit-for-terrorists swap.
A Barghouti-Pollard trade would win its participants world-wide acclaim. It is a win-win move all around, benefiting the PA and Obama administrations and firmly bolstering the Palestinian moderates.
Barghouti & the U.S.: Barghouti would be indebted to the U.S. for his freedom (rather than Hamas, as would be the case should he be released within the framework of a trade for the release of Shalit).
Barghouti & Israel: The release of Barghouti within the framework of a deal with the United States would have a profound impact on how readily the Netanyahu administration could interact with him. Barghouti has brokered deals with Israel in the past and could be a significant mitigating factor between Hamas on the one hand, and the moribund P.A. leadership on the other.
Israel - PA relations and beyond: The PA leadership could cite the PA's successful release of Barghouti to justify any future bold moves afterwards - even justify a decision to continue with "business as usual" (talks, etc.) despite Netanyahu's controversial refusal to publicly accept a blanket freeze of all building in the territories.
Can be readily imposed on Israel: The beauty of this swap is that the Israelis do not have to be consulted. As long as the Americans agree to the plan to swap Pollard, they can dictate the terms to Israel, which would be in no position to refuse, after publicly claiming for the last 25 years how much they want Pollard released.
+ + + + +
My hands were shaking when I finished reading this proposal.
"Why are you showing this to me?" I again demanded of the Israeli Prime Minister, "Surely, you are not seriously considering such a dastardly plan?!"
Netanyahu didn't answer. He seemed to be contemplating something at the bottom of his glass. An ice cube.
"Bibi!" I cried. I was panicky and my voice was a little shrill, "You know how opposed Jonathan is to the release of terrorists! You know he would never agree to being traded for Barghouti! He would never stand for this!!"
"Esther," calm down," Netanyahu said. "First of all, Jonathan is a prisoner. No one asks a prisoner how he would like to be released. And right now I am talking with you, not with Jonathan. So, please, just calm down!"
I settled back down in my chair, took a deep breath and waited for him to continue.
"There are a number of options," Netanyahu said, "Many ways that we can act decisively to bring Jonathan home. Steps that have never before been taken. This plan is just one option. We don't like it any more than you do."
"Why should I believe you?" I said.
"You don't have much of choice," he replied. "In any case, this plan is not on Israel's agenda. The document came to us via the Egyptians and the PA. Since it is not our initiative, but theirs, you can rest assured for the moment that I am not pursuing it. However, I did want you to be aware that this plan is out there and others are talking about it. I also need you, Esther, to be aware of the lengths we may have to go to, in order to get this done.
"So what do you want from me and from Jonathan?" I asked.
Netanyahu looked very stern and very serious: "We need your cooperation. We need you and Jonathan to stay away from media, to keep things quiet and to let us do what we have to do. We cannot afford to have a sensitive request blown up in the media, while we are in the midst of negotiations. Can I have your word that you and Jonathan will keep a low profile, and give us free rein to do what we have to do to bring Jonathan home?"
"Bibi," I replied, "On November 21st, 2009, Jonathan will complete his 24th year of incarceration and begin year 25 in prison. Can I have your word, Bibi, that you will pull out all stops to make sure that Jonathan is home before year 25 begins?"
The PM extended his hand to me. We shook hands warmly.
"I am counting on you" I said.
"You can trust me, "he replied.
And then bam!
Just like a siren, the alarm went off!
I sat bolt upright in bed and stared at the clock. It was 6 a.m.
Did this meeting really happen?
See Also: Hebrew Text of this Article: